RANGOON — A Mon woman trafficked into China 13 years ago was reunited with her parents on April 23 after escaping her captors.
Mi Khin Si (not her real name) was aged 17 when she took a train from her grandmother’s home in Ye Township, Mon State, to her own home in Mudon Township. During the journey she accepted a juice that was drugged, and was taken to Rangoon, where she was forced to work in a restaurant for three months.
Her abductors—yet to be identified—then sold the teenager to a Chinese man in the northern Shan State border town of Muse. It was the first of two forced marriages that she finally managed to flee with the help of human rights activist Nai Ko Thu.
In the first forced marriage, the man bought Mi Khin Si for 60,000 yuan (USD$8,750), said Nai Ko Thu, who is also a member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society. She had two children over 12 years, he added, before the man told her she could visit her parents.
Mi Khin Si did not make it home, as she was trafficked again at the border and forced to marry another Chinese man, who badly abused her. Using the social media app WeChat, she asked Burmese friends for help.
They connected the woman with Nai Ko Thu, who visited her parents and explained the reason behind their daughter’s disappearance. They had accepted that she had died or been taken more than a decade before, said the activist, but this time they filed a case at Mudon Police Station.
Mi Khin Si sent her location to Nai Ko Thu, who coordinated with anti-trafficking police on both sides of the border. A lack of action in the case pushed the activist to convince the woman to report to Chinese police.
She was detained and lost contact with Nai Ko Thu when her phone was confiscated after nearly three weeks. Chinese police deported her on April 9, the same day Burmese border police informed Nai Ko Thu of her return.
Burmese police transported her first to Rangoon, then Moulmein, and finally Mudon, where, at the age of 30, she saw her parents again. Her children remain with their father in China.
Five suspects have been arrested and a further five are still at large, said Nai Ko Thu.
“Chinese law does not take action against the person who buys the victim and enslaves her as a wife,” he said. “We can only take action against the traffickers.”
Thein Zaw Myint, a police officer at Mudon Township investigating the crime, told The Irrawaddy that they would cooperate with Mi Khin Si and border police to find the culprits.
“We will do what we can for the victim,” he said.
‘Trafficking is Endemic’
There were 85 cases of forced marriage out of 307 victims of trafficking last year, according to government statistics released in January, although the US State Department 2016 Trafficking In Persons shows that the number of victims may be largely underreported.
The Central Body for the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons under Burma’s Ministry of Home Affairs said a total of 131 instances of trafficking led to 307 victims, of whom 213 were women and 94 were men. Forty-one were children under 16, according to the office.
China topped the list with 88 cases. Twenty-eight people were trafficked within Burma, while nine were trafficked to Thailand and six were trafficked to Malaysia.
“Human trafficking is still endemic throughout Myanmar,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights. “Social media apps have been a double-edged sword throughout the region. We’ve seen traffickers use a variety of platforms to communicate during the last few years in particular.
“We’ve also documented how trafficking syndicates with links to Myanmar have used international banks, particularly in Thailand and Malaysia, to transfer funds in the buying and selling of men, women, and children.
“It’s difficult to say whether trafficking is on the rise in Myanmar because it’s a crime in the shadows, but the authorities certainly haven’t done enough to combat it. Through its ongoing use of forced labor, which constitutes a form of trafficking, the military is still likely the region’s worst offender.”
Last June, the United States listed Burma as among the worst offenders in human trafficking. It classified Burma as a Tier 3 country in its Trafficking in Persons report—the lowest possible ranking–and stated that thousands of people displaced by conflict within the country were especially vulnerable to trafficking.